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Marine National Monument a Victory for Habitat, Science

The Northeast Marine National Monument is a hotspot of biological diversity. (NOAA)
The Northeast Marine National Monument is a hotspot of biological diversity. (NOAA)
September 16, 2016

NEW YORK - President Obama on Thursday announced the designation of the first marine national monument in Atlantic waters. Spanning almost 5,000 square miles, the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument will protect crucial habitat for fish and marine mammals.

According to Peter Baker, director of northeast ocean conservation for the Pew Charitable Trusts, the area supports an incredible array of wildlife, from cold-water coral to sperm whales.

"It's truly a historic day," he said. "It cements the President's legacy supporting conservation, and it will allow animals a refuge as climate change warms our oceans."

Located 150 miles off Cape Cod, the area includes a canyon deeper than the Grand Canyon, and extinct volcanoes taller than any mountain east of the Mississippi.

National monument status means no commercial fishing will be allowed in the area. But John McMurray, a charter boat captain from Long Island, said it preserves an important breeding ground that will benefit fishermen closer to shore.

"Allowing these critically diverse hotspots to remain beyond the realm of oil and gas exploration, or wind farms, or cable laying or mining, creates benefits that filter all the way down to New York," he said.

In the past year, more than 300,000 people have voiced their support for permanent protection of the area.

The monument is also adjacent to the Gulf of Maine, where researchers say water temperatures are rising faster than anywhere else on the planet. And Baker pointed out that many species of fish are likely to seek out the colder waters of the deep canyons.

"So, it provides a refuge from climate change, and also provides the scientific community a pristine place where they can measure the effects of these changes," Baker said.

There are currently four marine national monuments in U.S. waters in the Pacific Ocean.

Support for this reporting was provided by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY